LaVoy Finnicum was the spokesman for the militia standoff up until late last month when he was shot dead at a roadblock where he and several other militia members were to be arrested for illegally holding a national wildlife refuge shelter in eastern Oregon. Reviewer Magazine went to Bend, Oregon, and met with the militia members on January 9 and that is where this interview took place.
A lot of fun has been made of his group, about how un-televisable they were, and they were called insane and host of other unflattering pronouns. But listen carefully to Finnicum on this tape with our ace reporter Sarah Shafer and you’ll find their position is pretty well thought out. There’s some issues with the federal government being able to seize land willy-nilly that are not getting discussed in the mainstream press.
One on One with Militiaman Spokesman at the Bundy Stronghold
Reviewer Magazine goes to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Standoff near Burns, Oregon.
By: Sarah Shafer @SASzilla
January 9, 2016 (6:00 P.M. to 7:00 P.M.)
It’s been a week since the militiamen gathered at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Armed with six-shooters on their hips and AK-47’s strapped over their shoulders, their refusal to leave the federally owned land has sparked a brush-fire of local opinion and national media spin. Some of this comes second-hand from reporters that have never been to Burns. Some of it comes from concerned citizens whose families have worked on the very land being disputed. Reviewer Magazine sits down for more than just soundbites with spokesman LaVoy Finicum, long time Arizona rancher and friend and supporter of the now notorious leader of the occupation, Ammon Bundy.
It was dark and snowing when I arrived at the at the scene. Most of the media had gone home, and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge appeared like any other defiantly warm and quiet structure you might see against the Burns, Oregon snowscape. LaVoy Finicum saw me through an office window and gestured me inside. He stood to shake my hand and offered me the chair opposite him, even though the chair was already full.
“Pardon me,” LaVoy said to the man in the chair, “I already promised this little lady that I would talk with her. I did promise her first if you don’t mind putting this on hold.”
The man moved without a word. Leaning over a tall filing cabinet, he quietly folded his arms in front of himself and propped his head up with his hands to listen for me to finish.
“Thank you for your time. I’m sure you’ve talked to a few people already today,” I said.
“Yes. One or two,” said Finicum.
“What do you think of how you’ve been portrayed in the media?”
“Honestly, we’ve been a little too busy here to really sit down in front of a TV,” Finicum said. “I didn’t have a chance to tell my family I was going to be here. I didn’t know until I came to leave some flowers for the Bundys, and I got the call from Ammon that we needed to do something. Someone mentioned that they did a skit of us on Saturday Night Live, ‘Y’all Qaeda,’ or something, but I haven’t seen it. Of course, my daughter saw me on the news and told everyone: ‘Dad took over a federal building!'”
“So you weren’t apart of a prior plan in place to take over the refuge?” I said.
“No. Most of us came here unprepared,” said Finicum, “One of the guys only had time to grab one change of clothes.”
“In the Federal Land and Policy Management Act, doesn’t it mandate that the federal government must consider ceding land back to the state if such an exchange would be in the better interest of the public?” I said.
Finicum said, “It’s more than that. They’re required. It’s mandatory. Now let’s look back to the history, all right. …Once a territory reached a population of I think sixty thousand people, at that point they would form it into a state. Now, I may be wrong on that number, so don’t quote me on that. So, at the moment that it became a state, the lands were to be ceded to the state to be disposed of. So the first states, for about the first four states right up until about Ohio, that’s what happened. But after awhile it became slow. They [the federal government] still ceded it to the states, but have you ever noticed, if you look at a map of federal land going from east to west. In the east there’s hardly any federal land. You get further and further west and there is more and more, till, like my county is ninety percent federal land. This county is fifty percent federal land… Governments tend to like to grow in power and size. They see the land and resources and they get slower and slower at ceding it back to the states. And pretty soon they say, ‘Oh, no, it’s ours, but you could have got some money off of the revenue had you been productive.’ Its called PILT, Payment in Lieu of Taxes… Really it’s Pennies in Lieu of Trillions. That’s really what it is. And so they at that point say, ‘No, the land is ours.’ And they have no constitutional authority to do that. And again, it has real impact on real people and we’ve seen it this week with the Hammond family.”
“We use to complain about taxation without representation, this is control without representation.”
“So how do you think turning the federal land here over to state authorities will help local Oregonians?” I said.
“That’s a good question,” said Finicum, “You have to ask yourself where does the wealth come from? Where did the materials come from? It comes from the resources of the earth. The wealth is generated from the resources of the land. So when you block off access to the land you seal seal the lands resources away for the people. Harney county used to be the wealthiest in the state of Oregon. Do you know where it is now? It’s the poorest. What happened? The Federal government came in. What did they do? They begin to grab and seize the resources of the land. The timber industry was seized and shut down. The ranchers have been suppressed. So when they grab the land and start to move the people off from it then the people can’t cultivate it or prune it to have resources come up. So the people become very poor. And so what happens, you need to realize is that the loyalty a lot of times flows from the direction that the money comes from. So, if people begin to get hooked on because there’s no jobs or land, no mining, or logging, or ranching then they look for what? Government jobs. Government benefits, or government welfare. When money begins to flow down from a federal agency or federal power to the people then their loyalties become this way. You see, getting a check without working is a horrible thing for a person. When a person is out there working his ranch, working his farm, working the forest as a lumberjack, or in the lumber mills, then there’s a sense of worth because he’s doing something of worth. And then he’s producing for the county and increasing the tax base. And then, guess what? Where’s the money flowing? It’s flowing from the people into the county. So now you have a relationship between the county and its citizens, and you have a good relationship instead of the money flowing down to the federal government. Where does the federal government get its money anyway? By taking it from the people or inflating the currency. So the wealth of the nation is increased. The welfare and the mental health of the people is increased. The other way, it all seems to do the opposite. I don’t know, is that an answer?”
“Do you believe that when the federal government charges people to use the land they’ve confiscated, that it is tantamount to taxation without representation?” I said.
Finicum said, “Well this is what we have, in Article 1, Section 8, in the United States constitution clearly defines what lands the federal government can own and control. Okay? Our founding fathers came from a country and under a rule where it was, what? The king’s forest, the king’s highway. You know, you don’t cut the king’s wood. They knew that if you did just what I said, that if you control the land and the resources, then you control the people… How much land does the federal government claim they control right now? One third of the land mass.”
“Now lets think about it even closer to home so you can better understand this,” he said, “On my ranch I have my cows and my grazing room. A bureaucrat behind a desk, a federal bureaucrat, who is not elected by me, is not under the power of recall, he can write a statute… He can just do that. He can just write that, okay? Now that has the force and effect of law. …Where does the power come from? Think about it, this is a little bit of a trick question. The power comes from the barrel of a gun. I have this huge pasture, about four thousand or five thousand acres, I’m not sure how big it is, but I’ve never grazed it off. In 6 years I’ve never been able to put cows out there because the only water source out there is a reservoir that has to collect rain water. Well, when I had a great summer and the feed was tall and green and the water flowed over enough that I had water in the reservoir, I said, ‘I’m going to put my cows in early before that water is dry and I can’t graze it off.’ But the bureaucrat said no. He said, ‘You can’t go in there until October fifteenth.’ I said, ‘But there’s water there now and the grass is green.’ …They’ve got the BLM [Bureau of Land Management] ranger armed with all the military equipment necessary, and he’ll come out and say, ‘You can’t.’ And if I get contrary, they can force it by the barrel of a gun, and where will they haul me? Into a federal court. Neither that ranger, or that bureaucrat, nor malfeasance of the court are under the power of recall of the state or the country or me as a rancher. They aren’t accountable to me, I haven’t elected them, and they rule over the land, over my livelihood, and so, we use to complain about taxation without representation, this is control without representation.”
At this point I note that the static nature of such bureaucratic laws actually go against the purpose of The Federal Land and Policy Management Act. Specifically, Section 102, (2), where it clearly states: The national interest will be best realized if the public lands and their resources are periodically and systematically inventoried and their present and future use is projected through a land use planning process coordinated with other Federal and State planning efforts.
I said, “What do you want to say to your supporters around the country, Mr. Finicum? What would you suggest that they do? Do you believe we should stop conceding to their will?”
Finicum said, “People are becoming disenfranchised fron the government. …Whether it’s on the right side of the spectrum or the left side of the spectrum, we’re on this side of the spectrum, occupying a federal building. We’re not burning things down. We’re trying to preserve and build. We want to be very careful so we can pass this resource center off to Harney County. So we’re trying to take good care of it. …Let me be very clear. I believe in government. I believe in the federal government. We need it. But we need it to be law abiding.”
“Well, I think that’s all I need. Thank you very much for your time, sir” I said. LaVoy shook my hand one last time, made sure he had my name and the name of my associate correct, and nodded farewell.
Friend Or Foe: Holding Ground At The Bundy Stronghold
One cold January day Reviewer Magazine went to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge standoff near Burns, Oregon.
by Sarah Shafer @SASzilla
January 9, 2016. With the arrival of another uninvited civilian armed force during the day and a closed meeting with state legislators after dark, Ammon Bundy deals with a shift change a week into his armed occupation of Federal property.
“No one else goes in, got that?,” said the man in a black ski mask and camouflage ensemble. The second guard at the entrance to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge shifts the AK-47 on his shoulder to get a handle on his walkie-talkie.
“No one else gets in but us and Jon Ritzheimer. What are they doing out there anyway? They’re suppose to be helping with the cease fire.”
The man in the ski mask listens to something gargle from his walkie-talkie.
“Listen,” he says to a young man strapped with the AK-47 (his name was Will, I remember from when I first entered the compound), “We’re going to go grab gas and a few supplies and go see what the hell they’re doing out there.”
It’s pitch black at this point. I know this conversation isn’t meant for me but this is the only way in and out, so it’s the way I’m going.
The guards finally see me emerge into the small area lit by their campfire beside the truck blocking the road. I don’t know it yet, but later I realize the guards are talking about the day’s new addition to the occupation. A few hours before my arrival, another group of armed civilians called the Pacific Patriot Network (PPN) and the Three-Percenters, barged onto the scene here in Burns adding to the confusion. According to a statement released by the group, while they don’t support Bundy’s occupation of Federal land, they do: “Wish to establish a safety perimeter of protection for the occupiers so as to prevent a Waco-style situation from unfolding during this peaceful occupation. The primary intention of this outer-ring is to bear witness to any aggressive action initiated by federal agencies or the occupiers, and to encourage an open dialogue towards a peaceful resolution. [They] will serve as a neutral third-party intermediary to prevent bloodshed.”
The group’s president may have stood up with Ammon Bundy’s friend and supporter, LaVoy Finicum, in front of the press earlier in the day. However, by the time the sun went down, it was obvious that communications were strained, and, at least for the time being, the PPN and Three-Percenters would not be welcome to return to the wildlife refuge serving as the Bundy compound.
Sent down unaccompanied by the front guard, I was told I could “talk to anyone that would talk” to me. Beyond that, there was no instruction. It was snowing, dark, and the men seemed more inclined toward trudging on with their work than speaking to the media. A lone cameraman and Julie Turkewitz of The New York Times stood with me unguarded and anxious between the building of the wildlife refuge compound as we awaited further instruction.
Ammond Bundy appeared from around a corner with three of his children clamoring around him. I stepped back before one long-haired little girl holding a blanket could run into me.
“Mr. Bundy,” I said, shaking the man’s hand.
“Who are you with?” he asked each of the three of us in turn.
“I’m from a local independent magazine called Reviewer Magazine,” I said.
“You’re local? Where are you from?”
“Eugene,” I said, “Nice to meet you.”
“You, too,” Bundy said, and looked at his son at his side. Both resorted to putting their hands in their pockets, it seemed, unconsciously. It appeared as if he had run into us unexpectedly.
“This is my boy,” Bundy said, “He hasn’t got to see his dad in a week, have you?”
The boy looks down at the ground so that his cowboy hat completely hides his face.
“How old are you?” says the reporter from The New York Times. The boy makes a start, stops, and stutters.
She says, “How many brothers and sisters do you have?”
“Well,” said Bundy, “how many of you are there?”
The little boy looks up at us from under the brim of his hat with a big smile that is missing teeth.
“Well, I’m twelve. There’s six of us,” he says
The lone cameraman moves off to record the smaller children swirling around the frozen yard.
“Who are you looking for?” Bundy looks from me to the New York Times reporter.
I say, “Are you available?”
Mr. Bundy shakes his head.
“I have a meeting with state legislators in a few minutes in the conference building.”
“State legislators? Who do you mean?” I say. Immediately, I wonder if he could be meeting with local government to try and resolve their differences and his grievances.
“Is that a closed meeting?,” asks the other reporter.
“Yes, it’s closed,” says Bundy, “It’s called The Coalition of Western States. They’re legislators from over eleven western states.”
Before I can ask Bundy a followup question about the role of the coalition in this occupation of Mahleur National Wildlife Refuge, and if he means to try to find a resolution to the situation with them, a pickup truck pulls up to him and rolls down their passenger window. He and the female passenger exchange a few words. Then Bundy starts giving out hand shakes all around as he says goodbye.
“Nice to meet you,” he says.
“You too, sir,” I say.
The gaggle of children walks behind their father as he follows the pickup truck towards one of the buildings down the way.
Online, the Coalition of Western States defines themselves as: “legislators, statesman and patriots united to stand against unconstitutional actions against United States citizens… formed after the Bundy Standoff in 2014.” I wouldn’t know until the next day about the nature of this closed meeting, and that in fact, Nevada and Oregon state representatives were personally meeting with Bundy there.
It’s at this point, after Bundy has walked away, that LaVoy Finicum sees me through an office window and gestures me to join him inside.
“You ask about taxation without representation, this is control without representation,” says Finicum.
The 55-year-old rancher and I go on to talk for well over a half an hour. He tells me his beliefs on how he thinks turning Federal land over to the state authorities will help local Oregonians. He tells me also about the flood of uncontested, bureaucratic laws that he believes prevents men from using common sense to steward public lands, the static nature of these laws, and how restrictions could be regularly re-evaluated to be more effective instead of enforced “at the barrel of a gun.”
Check back for the full interview with LaVoy Finicum at the Bundy compound.